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Best guitar effects pedals 2021: our pick of effects in every pedal category

Included in this guide:

Best guitar effects pedals: our pick of effects in every pedal category
(Image credit: Future)
Pedal buyer's guides

Whoever said that tattoos are addictive clearly never owned an effects pedal. For most players, it might be a simple tuner or a bog-standard GCB95 Cry Baby wah. But make no mistake – that first pedal will almost certainly open the door for many more to come, and there are definitely some juicy options in this best guitar effects pedal round-up.

Unlike electric guitars or amps, even if you live in a tiny apartment in one of the world’s busiest cities, you will always have space for another stompbox on your pedalboard. Pedals are also infinitely more affordable, with budget options starting as low as £20/$25 before the £75/$100 mid tier and finally up to the £200/$250+ deluxe units. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive models are the ones to go for, however. As this round-up of what we consider to be the best guitar effects pedals in each category right now will prove, high-quality effects are now available at all price points.

Best guitar effects pedals: buying advice

Different pedals suit different needs. If you’re the kind of player that prefers a generally uncoloured and more direct tone, you might not want much more than some simple overdrive and compression. Vice versa, if you want your guitar to sound like it’s being beamed to Earth from outer space, with enough whoosh-y modulations and decaying echoes to stretch through the galaxies, you might need to plan what pedals you’re going to use and in what order.

When it comes to value for money, multi-effects units are virtually unbeatable – though you do have to sacrifice some tone and functionality (using only one or two at a time) in return. Individual analog pedals offering true bypass will, in most cases, sound noticeably better – though it has to be said, the more you have in between your guitar and amp, the more opportunity there will be for complications and signal degradation.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all… it will always come down to the player and what kind of music they wish to create. Which is exactly why effects pedals provide an extra platform for expression that can be as integral as the notes being played.

The best guitar effects pedals you can buy

Best guitar effects pedals: Fender Pugilist

(Image credit: Fender)

1. Fender Pugilist distortion

A fantastic option if you're looking for a do-it-all distortion

Launch price: $88/£73/€86
Controls: tone A, gain A, tone B, gain B, blend, blend on/off, bass boost, level
Sockets: input, output, power
Bypass: true bypass
Power requirements: 9V power supply, 9V battery
Reasons to buy
+Sounds excellent, tweakable+It’s a steal at the price
Reasons to avoid
-High gain outshines the crunch-Blend might cause confusion at first

Those clever people at Fender have stacked the Pugilist with all the gain you could ever need, and even if it takes a bit of time to dial in the perfect sound and negotiate the two gain channels via the blend, there’s a whole lotta fun to be had.

Yes, it can function as an overdrive, but we’re on the hunt for the best distortion pedals, and the Pugilist understands this, with oodles of gain that can be shaped to react to your pickups. 

Mode A is more overdrive/crunch; Mode B saturates the tone for a more modern metal tone; while the bass boost is excellent for fattening up single coil tones.

Read more: the best distortion pedals you can buy today

Best guitar effects pedals: Earthquaker Devices Westwood

(Image credit: Earthquaker Devices)

2. EarthQuaker Devices Westwood overdrive

A truly rocking overdrive pedal

Price: $179/£185/€219
Type: Boost, Overdrive
Controls: Level, drive, bass, treble
Sockets: Input, output, power
Bypass: True bypass
Power requirements: 9V DC power supply, 9V battery
Reasons to buy
+2-band EQ+20dB of boost and cut
Reasons to avoid
-Tone sculpting capabilities-Not much!

This highly coveted overdrive combines true clean boost functions with a two-band active EQ to provide a wider range of musically useful tones and more sonic flexibility.

The Westwood differs from most other transparent boost pedals by providing more gain boost that pushes overdrive to the edge of distortion, and includes an active EQ section that delivers up to 20dB of boost or cut to frequencies around 2kHz (treble) and 80Hz (bass). The pots for the bass and treble knobs have center detents at 0dB, making it easy to dial in true transparent tone. The circuit has an all-analog signal path, and the true bypass switch is relay-based to provide silent, click-free on and off switching.

If you want true transparent overdrive with a wider range of gain as well as flexible EQ for refining your amp or guitar’s tone, the Westwood will truly rock your world.

Read more: the best overdrive pedals

Best guitar effects pedals: Strymon Timeline

(Image credit: Strymon)

3. Strymon Timelinem delay

Looking for a delay pedal? Explore no further

Launch price: $449/£399/€472
Type: Stereo multi-mode delay
Controls: Type, Value, Time, Repeats, Mix, Filter, Grit, Speed, Depth, A/B Bank, Tap Tempo
Sockets: Stereo in/out, Expression pedal, MIDI in/out
Bypass: True Bypass
Power requirements: 9V, 300mA
Reasons to buy
+Massive range of delay types+200 onboard memories+Impeccable emulations of vintage gear
Reasons to avoid
-Sheer number of features

The one must-have delay of them all, the TimeLine functions as an all-encompassing echo factory with 12 different types included (‘delay machines’ in TimeLine-speak), plus a stereo 30-second looper and an onboard memory that can store 200 rewritable presets in 100 banks of two.

There's a colossal range of sounds onboard, especially the pitch-shifted modes, which are ideal for creating ambient soundscapes, while the analog and tape sounds are as authentic as they come. Several ‘studio-delay-in-a-stompbox’ pedals are available, often at prices way above what you’d normally pay for a single pedal, and the TimeLine is one of the most respected of that type. 

In our view, Strymon has got the balance of facilities, control options and a comprehensive range of delays just right. Quite likely all you could ever want in a delay pedal.

Read more: explore the best delay pedals

Best guitar effects pedals: Boss RV-500

(Image credit: Boss)

4. Boss RV-500 reverb

A first-class, supremely versatile reverb pedal

Price: $349/£369/€436
Controls: Mode, Time/Value, Pre-Delay, E. Level, Low, High, Bank Up/Down, Tap
Sockets: Stereo In/Out, Exp pedal in, USB, MIDI In/Out
Bypass: Selectable buffered or true bypass
Power requirements: 225mA 9V DC
Reasons to buy
+Reverb + delay options+297 onboard patch memories+Space echo effect mode
Reasons to avoid
-Setting up sounds can be time consuming

This Boss reverb pedal is a large-format powerhouse that offers a whole world of ambience delivered at the highest quality, with 32-bit AD/DA, 32-bit floating point processing and 96kHz sampling rate. The jam-packed unit boasts three footswitches, digital delay options and 12 modes with 21 unique reverb types – all with a wide range of adjustable parameters, from decay, density and modulation to EQ, ducking and more.

For good measure, there’s also Roland classics like the SRV-2000 Reverb and RE-201 Space Echo. Additionally, the RV-500 features an A/B Simul mode, making it possible to use two reverb patches at once, close to 300 onboard patch memories, selectable buffered-bypass or true-bypass operation and the capability to interface with MIDI control devices. A seemingly endless array of options and combinations, all in Boss’s most powerful and versatile reverb processor to date.

Read more: the best reverb pedals

Best guitar effects pedals: Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Reissue

(Image credit: Electro-Harmonix)

5. Electro-Harmonix Op-Amp Big Muff Reissue fuzz

Enjoy even more dirt with this classic fuzz pedal

Launch price: $97/£75/€89
Controls: Frequency
Sockets: input, output, power
Bypass: True bypass
Power requirements: 9-Volt battery or EHX 9.6V DC-200mA power supply
Reasons to buy
+A worthy recreation of a rare Big Muff variant+Small pedalboard footprint+Reasonably priced
Reasons to avoid
-Some players may want a less aggressive Muff – see the Triangle Big Muff

While it’s true that many household names have used the Big Muff over the years, perhaps the band most associated with the pedal is Chicago-based alternative legends Smashing Pumpkins. On their 1993 classic Siamese Dream, they gatecrashed the grunge party with their 'guitar army', and had legions of guitarists scratching their heads as to how to make that sound.

Of course, part of the answer was 'a lot of overdubs', but when the word got out that Billy Corgan had used a Big Muff on the record, the pedal became hugely sought- after overnight. Unfortunately for wannabe soundalikes, Billy's Big Muff was actually an unusual vintage op-amp version.

Due to availability of parts, the design of the Big Muff shifted over time, and the op-amp version, which was a completely different circuit from the quad-transistor original Big Muff, was comparatively rare. Billy had just gotten lucky that he picked up that specific version from a pawnshop.

Until recently, your only option was a boutique clone, rare original, or building your own. But luckily, EHX recently reissued it, so you too can bask in its fuzzy glory.

Read more: check out the best fuzz pedals

Best guitar effects pedals: Jim Dunlop JC95 Jerry Cantrell Wah

(Image credit: Dunlop)

6. Jim Dunlop JC95 Jerry Cantrell wah

A top wah pedal with the Cantrell seal of approval

Launch price: $264.99/£153/€181
Controls: Tone, Sustain, Volume
Sockets: input, output, power
Bypass: True bypass
Power requirements: 9-Volt battery or 9-Volt power supply
Reasons to buy
+Custom voiced with a darker/wider response+Rugged side control knob+Oxidized road word brass casing and AIC tread
Reasons to avoid
-Not much at all!

There’s a very simple reason why Jerry Cantrell’s signature wah has been spotted under the noses of tone connoisseurs and virtuosos like Guthrie Govan and Richie Kotzen over the years – it makes sure you always cut through.

With a darker tonal spectrum than your stock Cry Baby, the JC95 gives you maximum control of your range by way of an adjustable Fine Tune knob. Thanks to Cantrell's predilection for slicing mids, you won't get bogged down with muddy bottom-end tones or shrill highs, instead getting a clear, throaty effect that's ideal for the careful tone-master and the stomp-happy guitarist. To top it all off, this is also one of the classiest-looking wahs ever made!

Read more: the best wah pedals

Best guitar effects pedals: Boss CE-2W Waza Craft

(Image credit: Boss)

7. Boss CE-2W Waza Craft chorus

Take a closer look at our top choice chorus pedal

Price: $199.99/£159/€188
Type: Chorus, vibrato
Controls: Rate, depth, CE-1 switch
Sockets: Input, 2 x output, power
Bypass: Buffered bypass
Power requirements: 9V DC power supply, 9V battery
Reasons to buy
+Mini toggle provides a selection of CE-2 and CE-1 effects+Analog Bucket Brigade technology+Mono and stereo outputs
Reasons to avoid
-Not much!

The Boss CE-2 Chorus, and its big-brother predecessor the CE-1 (along with the same effect built into the Roland Jazz Chorus amp), defined the sound of chorus during the late Seventies and Eighties. So when Boss announced that it was offering a Waza Craft version of the beloved CE-2 called the CE-2W, we were certainly intrigued, given the stellar track record of Boss's previous Waza Craft offerings.

The CE-2W Waza Craft combines two Boss effects in one – the CE-2 and the mother of all chorus effects, the CE-1, complete with its chorus and vibrato sections. With the exception of the mini three-way toggle switch for selecting the CE-2, CE-1 chorus or CE-1 vibrato modes, a second 1/4-inch output jack (direct only) that delivers stereo chorus/vibrato effects and the Waza Craft logo embedded in the rubber on/off switch pad, the CE-2W looks identical to the original CE-2. 

Sound-wise, it’s the most perfect match we’ve ever experienced between an original product and its reissue – that unmistakable thick, lush, shimmering Boss chorus that we’ve all heard on a million classic recordings from the likes of Rush, the Pretenders and even Metallica.

Read more: the best chorus pedals for all budgets

Best guitar effects pedals: EVH Phase 90

(Image credit: EVH )

8. MXR EVH Phase 90 phaser

The best phaser pedal you can buy right now

Price: $129.99/£138/€163
Controls: Speed, Script Mode
Sockets: Input, output, power
Bypass: True bypass
Power requirements: 9V DC power supply, 9V battery
Reasons to buy
+As classic-sounding as you can get+Two different modes for different phaser intensity+EVH’s famous red, black and white stripes
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at all

Could there be a more iconic phaser sound than Eddie Van Halen’s? Probably not – which is precisely why the EVH Phase 90 remains one of the most popular effects pedals made by MXR. It not only sounds better than virtually all other phaser pedals, offering some of the thickest swirls and warmest warbles made famous on anthems like Atomic Punk, Eruption and Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love, it looks the part too – thanks to the usage of Eddie’s instantly recognizable Frankenstein stripes.

This phaser might only have one knob for speed, but the script switch allows users to toggle between the more vintage-sounding original Phase 90 and the more modern block logo version. If you’ve already got the right kind of gain sorted, then all you need is this pedal for instant Van-Halen-in-a-box…

Best guitar effects pedals: Source Audio Mercury

(Image credit: Source Audio)

9. Source Audio Mercury flanger

The best flanger pedal on the market right now

Price: $173/£159/€188
Controls: Three modes, Depth, Speed, Resonance, Delay
Sockets: 2 Inputs, 2 Outputs, Power, USB, Expression Control Input
Bypass: Universal bypass
Power requirements: 9V DC power supply
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly versatile+Three modes for more tonal options+Stereo in and out
Reasons to avoid
-Not as essential as other modulations

This stereo flanger might not be the most affordable pedal of its kind out there, but if you’re serious about that jet-engine whoosh - which, let’s face it, can often sound thin at the more budget end of the spectrum - then it’s definitely worth every cent.

The Mercury offers three types of flanger: from its classic mode to the Thru-Zero tape flange and finally the Shadow Flanger. There are also options for presets, analog buffered or relay based True Bypass and tap tempo to set your modulation rate. The icing on the cake? This pedal also has an on-board delay control, which more than lives up to its promise of allowing users to explore that beautiful cosmic space between chorus and flanger.

Best guitar effects pedals: TC Electronic Sub N Up

(Image credit: TC Electronic)

10. TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up octave

One of the best octave pedals money can buy

Price: $110/£79/€89
Controls: Dry, Up, Sub, Sub 2, three-way mini toggle
Sockets: 1 Input, 1 Output, Power, USB
Bypass: True or buffered bypass
Power requirements: 9V DC power supply, 9V battery
Reasons to buy
+Next-generation octave machine with flawless tracking+Three modes for more tonal variety+More options via USB Toneprint
Reasons to avoid
-No option for an expression pedal 

Arguably one of the most popular pitch-shifters since the legendary DigiTech Whammy, the polyphonic Sub ‘N’ Up octave can handle virtually anything you throw at it – from complex chords to fast single-note riffs. But it can do a whole lot more thanks to the TonePrint editor, which gives the option to add modulation into the mix as well. Considering it’s one of the cheaper options on the market, you get a lot for not much money.

Most importantly of all, however, it tracks fast and flawlessly, and for those who like the glitchiness of older monophonic pitch-shifters, it also offers a monophonic mode. Anyone unsure about the size and concerned about limited space on their 'board will be pleased to know there is a mini version available too.

Best guitar effects pedals: Source Audio Vertigo

(Image credit: Source Audio)

11. Source Audio Vertigo tremolo

The best tremolo effects pedal you'll find

Launch price: $149/£123/€178
Controls: Depth, speed, shape, level, mode switch
Sockets: 2x input, 2x output, power
Bypass: True bypass
Power requirements: 9V power supply
Reasons to buy
+Excellent shape control+Expanded functionality via Source Audio's Neuro app
Reasons to avoid
-Not much

Those sonic alchemists at Source Audio perfected the sound of three of the most iconic amp tremolo sounds with the Vertigo: the optical-style tremolo from a 1967 Fender Vibrolux; the Fender ‘brownface’ series’ Harmonic wobble; and a Bias sound, similar to the tremolo on a Vox AC30.

There’s more to it than that, of course, thanks to the shape control. This adjusts between square wave, sawtooth and everything in between, while Source Audio’s Neuro app can take the sounds into entirely different realms. The Vertigo combines authenticity and eccentricity in perfect harmony.

Read more: the best tremolo pedals you can buy

Best guitar effects pedals: DryBell Vibe Machine V2

(Image credit: DryBell)

12. DryBell Vibe Machine V2 vibe

The best vibe pedal around right now

Launch price: $298.75/£305/€360
Controls: Intensity, Speed, Volume, Chorus/Vibrato switch, Custom/Bright/Original mode switch, Custom/Chorus/Range/Symmetry side-trimmers
Sockets: input, output, power, pedal+ external controller
Bypass: true bypass
Power requirements: 9V power supply
Reasons to buy
+The best-sounding vibe on the market+Added functionality via the pedal+ footswitch socket+Compact and built to last
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap, but worth every cent

If you’re a fan of Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, Pink Floyd or Pearl Jam, then you will probably know what a Uni-Vibe sounds like. The four-stage phaser, initially inspired by the whoosh and spin of rotary speakers, has been one of the most popular modulation effects in rock history – perfect for melting minds with its hypnotising and pulsating psychedelic throb.

While many pedals have attempted to recreate that legendary sound over the years, very few can rival the DryBell Vibe Machine – and its second incarnation sees even more functionality added into an all-analog, tidy and compact unit that won’t eat into your board. 

Anyone who’s tried one will most likely tell you that its rich, three-dimensional harmonics and textures sound incredible from the word go, but the Vibe Machine V2 also allows you to sculpt and tweak more than any vibe pedal ever made. Which is exactly why Joe Satriani was seen using one on last year’s Experience Hendrix tour. 

Meanwhile, Billy Idol legend Steve Stevens, who uses one in his new Deadland Ritual supergroup, describes DryBell’s creation as “just amazing, with a custom mode that sounds stunning”, citing the V2 as “even better than the old version, which is hard to believe”. High praise indeed!